Research: Commentary

No Evidence to Place Cuba on the States Sponsors of Terrorism List

May 14, 2008 | Article


The Florida State Legislature has just passed a bill that would effectively shut down travel between Florida and Cuba, thus making it extremely difficult for Cuban-Americans to visit their families on the island. This was done, according to the legislators, to prevent companies in Florida from dealing with any entities in so-called “state sponsors of terrorism,” i.e. Syria, Sudan, Iran, North Korea and Cuba. Obviously, however, in Florida, Cuba is the only real target. It has been on the list since 1982 and perhaps at some point in the past it should have been. But as I pointed out definitively last year in The National Interest, in recent years the State Department has presented no credible evidence at all to justify its inclusion. In its annual reports, for example, the Department claims that Cuba opposes America’s counterterrorism policy and efforts, but can point to no example of this. And we see that on the contrary, Cuba not only condemned the 9/11 attacks and expressed solidarity with the American people, but also signed all terrorist resolutions and offered to sign agreements with the U.S. to cooperate in combating terrorism.

Further, we have Fidel Castro’s own statement in September of 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, condemning all forms of terrorism as an “ethically indefensible phenomenon which must be eradicated.” And he vowed that “the territory of Cuba will never be used for terrorist actions against the American people.”

The State Department presents no evidence that it has been.

This year’s report, as did last year’s, complains that Cuba provides safe haven to members of the Basque ETA and the Colombian FARC and ELN. Again, it presents no evidence at all that they are engaged in terrorist activities or any activities at all objectionable to the Spanish or Colombian governments. Last year’s State Department report even acknowledged that: “There is no information concerning terrorist activities of these or other organizations on Cuban territory….The United States is not aware of specific terrorist enclaves in the country.”

In sum, there may be members of the ETA, FARC, and ELN in Cuba, but if they are there legally and are not involved in terrorist activities, then how does their presence in any way lead to the conclusion that Cuba sponsors terrorism?

The State Department’s recent reports have also complained that “the Cuban government did not attempt to track, block, or seize terrorist assets, although the authority to do so is contained in Cuban Law 93 against acts of terrorism.”    

But any good lawyer would respond to that by asking “what assets?” There is no evidence at all that Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization has any assets in Cuba. And so, there is nothing to seize. The only thing the statement makes clear is that Cuba does have laws on the books to combat terrorism. How is that consistent with the description of Cuba as a “terrorist state”?

There are American fugitives in Cuba, yes, just as there are Cuban fugitives in the U.S. The extradition treaty between the two no longer functions. But there are no American terrorists to whom Cuba is giving safe haven. The U.S., however, cannot say the same. It is sheltering notorious terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch and others. And yet, as George Bush himself has said on a number of occasions, “anyone who shelters a terrorist is a terrorist.”

Where, one must ask, does that leave George Bush?

Wayne S. Smith is the former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82) and is now a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.

CIP in the Press